January 15, 2024

Navigating Transformative Change in the Workplace

Q&A With Laura Jacob, Head of People, Culture and Communication at Envu

This article was adapted and translated from an interview Mindset Coffee Podcast recently conducted with Laura.

As the Head of People, Culture and Communication at Envu, Laura Jacob shapes both corporate communication and culture. She oversaw change management during the organization’s 2022 spinoff from Bayer, and she’s worked to establish a strong employer brand for the new entity ever since.

Laura grew up in Berlin and studied in France, where she obtained a degree in psychology and a master’s degree in work and organizational psychology before launching her career in consulting. This experience prepared her well to help lead Envu through its transformation as an independent environmental science company with staff in all parts of the world. Below, she reflects on the company’s — and the industry’s — recent transformative change.

Q&A With Laura Jacob

Q: How did you prepare your employees to embrace a new corporate identity before the spinoff even began?

Laura: To spin off from Bayer, we not only needed a new corporate identity but we also needed to establish new ways of working, new systems and new processes. That’s a lot of change in a short period of time. We started early, a full year and a half before the sale, devoting a lot of time and effort to change management and cultural evolution. This effort started at the top, with our CEO. Along with the rest of our leadership team, he devoted a lot of time to anticipating the changes to come and defining the culture we sought to live. We called it our Culture Evolution Journey. We deliberately chose “evolution” and not “change” because Bayer had a great corporate culture, so we did not want to imply that we were changing everything. Certain values were deeply embedded and lived by the employees, so those values did not change with the new corporate identity. But we did spend a year and a half outlining what did need to change as we transformed from Bayer to Envu. More than a year after the sale, it’s a journey that’s not over yet. We continue to invest a lot of time in this evolution at all levels and in all regions.

Q: How did you set the stage for a successful Culture Evolution Journey?

Laura: We first considered what things might look like in our new reality, and then we worked with our managers and transformation agents (change agents who were already present at Bayer) to create a network of people outside of the HR discipline to drive change forward. These transformation agents discussed things like our cultural traits, and rolled them out organizationwide through workshops with employees in all countries. To ensure success, we developed together with the teams concrete examples of these cultural traits so that we could all identify and live them in our daily work lives. We also created a baseline measurement via a Culture Maturity Survey to gauge employee perceptions of culture and help shape our action plan for 2023 and beyond.

Q: Did this much change create fear within your employee base?

Laura: We started on a very positive note as many of our employees stated they were looking forward to becoming an independant company solely focused on Environmental Science. I was pleasantly surprised by this given Bayer is a very large company and a very good employer. The global leadership team was also very excited, which helped eliminate much of the fear. Still, there was some fear about how much the transition would demand from  employees, so we shared regular messages to communicate the benefits of the transition. For instance, we are now able to make our own decisions. We are focused. We are also market leaders in our field in many countries, so we can now push forward faster. But in addition to emphasizing the positive, we were also realistic. We acknowledged that there would be challenges, and we managed expectations around these. So, we hosted culture change workshops to foster discussions around our new tools and how we could accomplish everything headed our way. This transparency was viewed very positively.

Q: How else did you create positive momentum from the very beginning?

Laura: Positive reinforcement is always exciting, so we put it out there and celebrate it. One example is our Dare to Explore Awards, a program that recognizes employees for living our cultural traits. This positive reinforcement shows how important culture is to us. No matter what else happens, culture is the basis of our organization because it is crucial for everything we do. Even at the upper management level, this means creating visibility for people who live the culture and have a positive influence on the company. To generate excitement when we launched Envu, we held a contest with employees called “Show Your Envusiasm.” Employees from around the world submitted videos and photos that creatively expressed their enthusiam for our new company. We had numerous submissions which the leadership team voted on to narrow it down to three, and then employees voted on the final winners during a celebratory town hall. It was inspirational to see their passion and engagement.

Q: Was there a difference in how the culture was received and embraced across regions?

Laura: I would say that our cultural traits were absorbed very homogeneously, although there were some cultural differences. In some cultures, employees express their opinions much more strongly than in others, while in other regions, you have to give people a little more space. So, we were careful to design workshops that reflected the culture.

Q: How has digital transformation evolved in recent years?

Laura: Digital transformation is about integrating digital technology into every facet of a business, leading to fundamental changes in how businesses operate and deliver value to customers. It's also about a cultural shift, urging organizations to continually challenge the status quo, experiment, and become comfortable with failure. I think the biggest digital transformation projects I have seen so far are those when a company changes its enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, which is often at the heart of a company since so many different areas depend on these systems. When I was a consultant, I saw that many large companies aimed to adapt an IT system to align with processes already in place. Today, it’s often the other way around. If I introduce a cloud-based ERP system, there is a standard version, and the processes have to be adapted accordingly, which is a huge mindset change. IT needs to keep in mind that employees live these processes, so it’s important to loop them in early since we are no longer adapting tools to meet reality.

Q: How do you personally continue to learn and grow?

Laura: From an HR perspective, I’m very interested in the topic of AI. I think we can expect to incorporate AI into many parts of our workforce within the next five to 10 years, which means we have to prepare for it much sooner. It’s exciting to think about what that’s going to look like and how it will affect our job descriptions. Once a year, I host a future workshop with my team, during which we step away from all the operational topics for a day and look at what kinds of opportunities the next decade may hold. In addition to bringing in a guest speaker, together we think about the wildest changes our department could be faced with.That stays in your head, even after you come back down to earth and talk strategy. This year, we’re considering how AI might affect our jobs and what it might mean for the company. This will be part of even our short-term strategy, so we’re looking for AI training opportunities, and we’ll identify use cases. I really enjoy these learning nuggets. I’m always looking for something I can download and do quickly on a plane or train. I also stay pretty connected to other companies because it’s important to see what others are doing and what trends are emerging in the industry.

Q: What tips would you offer to someone facing a changing workplace?

Laura: In an ever-changing environment, I think it’s necessary to focus on what’s important. Identify what changes and what stays the same. Find what helps you to release energy so you can focus. At Envu, culture remains an anchor along with our company values and how we live them. While we may collectively take on new challenges, the way we work together stays the same. There’s a change curve that affects us all, so remember that it’s completely normal to feel shocked when you first hear about an impending change. Remember that this is something we all go through, and at some point, things will get better. Keep a direct line of communication with your colleagues and superiors to exchange ideas and ask how they are doing. This is a very human process.